Knee strengtheners

So we talked about knees and what to check for if you get that pulling in your knee when you do a movement. By this I do not mean constant pain but just a tugging on a certain move, that feels like a tight area. If you have ongoing knee issues, constant pain, popping, grinding, swelling or anything that doesn’t resolve then get it checked out!

So now we are looking at how to strengthen the muscles around the knee.

The VMO, or vastus medialis oblique: is one of the four muscles of your quadriceps. If you flex your quads, you’ll notice a large muscle toward the inner part of your thigh. That’s your VMO. The VMO attaches to the patella (your kneecap) and to the femur. It allows for normal knee function—especially during squatting and multi-directional movements as well as running and jumping. So you can see why this muscle being weak or too tight would cause knee pain. Good exercises to strengthen it are step ups. Literally climbing stairs or stepping up and down on the same step.

TEST: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched. Squeeze your kneecaps and release whilst feeling the inside of your knee. Ideally you should feel a muscle working called VMO.

The Hamstrings:  If your hamstring is optimal there should be a right angle between your 2 legs with leg in the air straight up to the ceiling and the other leg stretched out on the floor. If your leg will not go to this range you need to work on releasing those hamstrings. A good stretch with a band will help.

TEST: Lie on the floor with 1 leg in the air and one leg on the floor. In order for you to straighten you leg will and knee where does your leg have to be.

Think about what you feel when you try to stretch your knees? Is there a pull or tightness in the front, back, side or in the knee joint itself? If so it could mean you need some massage, release work and then strengthening. See a sports massage therapist for help with this.

Posture, as always is king: You can do all the release work in the world and then undo it with poor posture. So if you are doing work and not seeing the benefits get checking out your regular and habitual sitting and standing positions. Specifically think about taking regular posture breaks. Don’t remain in any one position for too long, if you are working at a desk take regular movement breaks. Check your pelvis, in seated and stood, your ribcage should be over your pelvis. You want to be sitting and standing tall and in neutral alignment.

 

 

Can you do the knee cap dance?

Knees can be tricky things and are something that people often comment on in class.

“My knee pulls when I do that” 

Now pain is always a sign to stop and reassess.The body is telling you there is a problem and you need modify your movement.

There are a few things you could do:

  1. You can make the same movement smaller working within a range that causes less pain (note it may not be entirely painfree).
  2. Change over to a different exercise that works the same muscles but doesn’t hurt your knee.
  3. Stretch the muscles around you knee and then try again.
  4. Work out what the actual problem is with your knee and work on releasing the tight areas, strengthening the weak areas.

So all these options have their place and in the context of a class it is often options 1-3 that need to be done. However at a later time I definitely advise that you start to assess where the problem is coming from. Start with your range of movement. Can you fully bend and straighten your knee without forcing it? If not it’s about working out which muscle is the problem (see my next blog post to help with this).

The muscles:

The muscles of the knee include the quadriceps/quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. Some other muscles that assist with the movements of the knee include the tensor fasciae latae, popliteus and the articularis genus muscles. The quads extend the leg at the knee and flex the thigh. The hamstrings help to extend the knee and slow down the quads preventing the locking out of the knee or that fast smashing action. All these muscles need to be working properly and at their correct length/tension for the knee to function optimally.

A key exercise to help with kneecap function:

Sit with your legs outstretched, toes to ceiling but relaxed feet, feet in parallel with knee caps towards the ceiling. Feel around your kneecap, if it is relaxed you should be able to wiggle it gently with your fingers. Stroke up the inside and outside of your leg from kneecaps upwards. These are the muscles we want to use, so you are priming them. Now can you do a knee cap dance? Using your quads in the front of your thigh pull your kneecaps up and fully relax afterwards. Place your hands under your knees for a few, on the top of your thigh and around your knee cap. What do you feel? You want the muscles in the front of the thigh to be doing the most work, so your knees do not push down into the floor when the kneecap is tensed. Start doing this exercise seated and progress to standing.

Look out for my next blog on knees which will look at specific muscles to target and how to do so.